How to make Mr. Godsbody cry for entirely different reasons.

Four weeks in the Beverly Wilshire:

It did, at least, result in a very fine piece of writing: “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”:

“FRANK SINATRA, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk-rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra’s four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday…”


  1. Matthew,

    But SOME of those old things are still possible: If nothing else, I can still get out to write a story in Califorina with great accomodations.

    As for the tape recorder, methinks Talese doth smack just a tad of the luddite – I mean is it really the case that one can't make creative use of the tape recorder? Did it really cheapen the skillset by that much?


  2. Matthew Lickona says

    Yeah, he goes a mite far, but he's right as far as lamenting the reduction of the profile to a sit down over lunch in a hotel room. He's right that the profile lives and dies by action, that a reporter ought to leave his room and see people doing things, and write what he sees. The tape recorder doesn't negate that, of course, but it does make it easier to slack off.
    Yes, come to California and write a story!

  3. I remember the Sinatra piece, though I read it years later. Truly excellent. But "the Voice" did some of his best work at 50. If memory serves, "September of my Years" came out that year. He could sing being 50 better than anyone, and Talese captures in great part why.

  4. Matthew Lickona says

    df, Bono wrote on this same topic recently, here:

    Like Bob Dylan’s, Nina Simone’s, Pavarotti’s, Sinatra’s voice is improved by age, by years spent fermenting in cracked and whiskeyed oak barrels. As a communicator, hitting the notes is only part of the story, of course.

    Singers, more than other musicians, depend on what they know — as opposed to what they don’t want to know about the world. While there is a danger in this — the loss of naïveté, for instance, which holds its own certain power — interpretive skills generally gain in the course of a life well abused.

    Want an example? Here’s an example. Take two of the versions of Sinatra singing “My Way.”

    The first was recorded in 1969 when the Chairman of the Board said to Paul Anka, who wrote the song for him: “I’m quitting the business. I’m sick of it. I’m getting the hell out.” In this reading, the song is a boast — more kiss-off than send-off — embodying all the machismo a man can muster about the mistakes he’s made on the way from here to everywhere.

    In the later recording, Frank is 78. The Don Costa arrangement is the same, the words and melody are exactly the same, but this time the song has become a heart-stopping, heartbreaking song of defeat. The singer’s hubris is out the door. (This singer, i.e. me, is in a puddle.) The song has become an apology.

  5. Matthew,

    That first point I made wasn't so much a self-invitation as it was a warm acknowledgement of all that went into the pot [sic] before.

    I wholly concur that a story by foot is much more preferable to one by phone – I believe in my own ten years at it I've had maybe a handful of spin-offs and peelings from an original story by phone – whereas when I go to the action invariably I come home with more than one story in my arms.

    I do get the basic point Talese is making – and I do think the editor has less patience for journalists who wish to break from the formula – even if it is to break into a more expansive formula.

    As for future Califenestrations – in a heartbeat, amice, in a heart beat.

    So whence the avacados and the polyamorists?

    Therein lies the importance of being earnest in California and just li'l ol' me in Wisconsin….


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